German conservative regrets gaffe over Romanians

ROMANIA

A senior figure in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party faced criticism Friday for comments at an election rally in which he appeared to disparage Romanian workers.

An amateur video posted on YouTube and aired by several German media outlets showed Juergen Ruettgers, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, saying that “unlike employees here in the Ruhr region, those in Romania don’t come in for their first shift at 7 in the morning and stay until the end.” “Instead, they come and go, and they don’t know what they’re doing,” he added.

Last year, mobile phone maker Nokia Corp. closed a factory in Bochum, in Ruettgers’ state, then inaugurated a new plant in Romania _ part of an effort to shift jobs to lower-cost locations. The decision angered many in Germany.

Germany’s daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the comments were made at an election rally Aug. 26 in Duisburg, near Bochum. Merkel is seeking a second term in elections Sept. 27.

Ruettgers, a deputy leader of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, later apologized for any hurt caused by his comments.

“I was standing behind workers in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose outstanding performance is recognized worldwide and who have lost their job because of wrong decisions in company headquarters,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

“I didn’t want to insult anyone; if that happened, I am sorry,” he added. “I will continue to fight for workers in North Rhine-Westphalia,” Germany’s most populous state.

Michael Groschek, the rival Social Democrats’ general secretary in the region, told ZDF television that the comments were “unworthy for a governor, particularly of the biggest German state.” Ruettgers has been governor of the state, once a Social Democratic stronghold, since 2005.

He was much criticized in a 2000 election campaign for using the slogan “Kinder statt Inder,” or “children, not Indians” to argue that Germany should step up its own educational efforts rather than bring in foreign computer experts.

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